Thu, July 26
ICE-T at the Phoenix Rating: NNNN
Only a few hundred fans were on hand for the rare appearance of Law & Order: SVU's Det. Fin Tutuola, but any doubts about Ice-T showing up were assuaged when legendary DJ Evil-E stepped up. He warmed up the Phoenix with hits until Ice emerged with hair in braids, wearing an L.A. baseball cap and a T-shirt emblazoned with guns, brass knuckles and knives.
After dropping two new joints that sounded better than you'd think, he jumped around his catalogue, thrilling the crowd with gangsta rap classics.
Ice-T dazzled with an unpredictable mix of mic mastery, raunchy stand-up, ghetto thespian expression and hyper-sexual aggression. Before one song, he bellowed, "Who's 21 in here? Well, you were still in your daddy's nuts when this song came out. If he went to a club and stood by a speaker, this is what you would've heard!"
Later, Ice pulled up one mega-fan sporting an OG T-shirt, hat and toque and let the awestruck acolyte perform the rapper's rhymes word for word; the dude was so on point that Ice jokingly fired hype man Nice.
The crowd went crazy for New Jack Hustler and Colors before Ice dropped 6 'N The Mornin' and brought out his impossibly beautiful wife, Coco, to say goodbye. Truly unforgettable.
Sat, July 28
HYPNOTIC BRASS ENSEMBLE and SAK PASÉ at Harbourfront Centre Rating: NNNN
The sight of Roland XB and Yamaha Motif 8 keyboards and turntables set up on the Harbourfront Centre main stage prior to the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble 's Saturday set was worrisome. True, they'd just been on an overseas tour, but you'd think it'd take more than a month of exposure to synthesized Euro-cheese to tempt the eight-strong crew away from the straight and narrow of acoustic improvisation.
After all, the Hypnotic posse are the gifted sons of spiritual jazz great Phil Cohran. Surely, the Arkestra ace raised his horn-blowing and drum-battering kids better. He did. Well, save for allowing them to wear gauntlets that resembled altered dachshund rainwear.
The extra stage gear was for Wyclef Jean's disappointing Sak Pasé showcase that followed, but speculation about whether or not Wyclef would appear at his label launch (he didn't) became a moot point as soon as HBE began their funky assault. Led by a four-trumpet front line backed up with flugelhorn, trombone, sousaphone and a powerhouse drummer, they authoritatively hammered out simple grooves that kept headz nodding throughout the hour-long set.
Blasting through a relentless series of hard-pumping uptempo jams with barely time to shake the spit from their instruments, the HBE seemed much more inspired by New Orleans crews like the Rebirth Brass Band than by any of the cosmic jazz associated with their dad - probably a good thing if they're aiming to rock parties.
Sun, July 29
THE ROOTS, TEGAN & SARA and more, at Historic Fort York Rating: NNNN
From the dog-pile of manic moshers who ignored the sweltering sun to rush the stage for Bad Brains ' late-afternoon set to the beaming hordes entranced by the Roots ' show-closing extravaganza, Sunday's Picnic at Fort York went over well with music fans.
The day-long affair had its flaws. Who decided to program the two hiphop acts, Little Brother and the Roots, at opposite ends of the roster? Yeah, yeah - you wanted people to stick around, so if they showed up at 2:30 pm to catch Phonte and Big Pooh , they were left buying overpriced perogies till the Roots stepped up at 9:30 pm, since there were no in-and-out privileges at the event.
A note for the future: Fort York is shade-free, so if you're planning summer shows, make some. Setting up a couple of tents shouldn't be too hard.
Beyond that, the show itself was solid. Though the New Pornographers ' mellower new material didn't connect with the exuberant masses, Carl Newman and his crew constructed their set on a firm foundation of upbeat crowd-pleasers. No longer satisfied to endure "Where's Neko?" hollers, token Porno girl Kathryn Calder has perfected a passable Case impression.
As soon as Tegan and Sara hit the stage, their hardcore fans flocked to their feet and managed to sing along - much to the amazement of both Quin sisters - to most of the tunes from The Con, which hit stores last Tuesday. Whether due to the crunchier, amped-up new songs or bolstered onstage confidence, Tegan and Sara delivered a stadium-worthy performance.
And while (weirdly) it seemed that most folks showed up to see the tepid Queens regatta reggae-pop of Bedouin Soundclash , the only truly historic moment came from the Roots.
Despite being down several members, The Philly heavyweights played a dope show, ricocheting between ballsy rock-soul, straight-up hiphop and slinky funk, but they sent things into the stratosphere by bringing out surprise guests De La Soul and Lupe Fiasco (both in town for Wakestock). "People call us the legendary Roots, but these guys," came the pronouncement, with a gesture towards De La, "these are the real legends." Straight up.